Dismal Korea needs to step up against Saudi Arabia

Korea's Son Heung-min reacts during the AFC Asian Cup Group F football match against Malaysia at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar, Thursday. / Yonhap

Saudi Arabia and Thailand faced each other in Qatar on Thursday. Both had already booked their places in the knockout stages and knew the winner of the final game would top Group F and advance to the Round of 16, where they would play against South Korea, the runner-up from Group E. Just a few days ago, the idea might have been intimidating, but not anymore. Both teams did their utmost to win and did not seem to care even one little bit about the prospect of facing the Taeguk Warriors. Any fear factor that may have existed has dissipated.Before the Asian Cup started, most fans in Korea expected that a group containing Bahrain, Jordan and Malaysia would not be too much trouble. It started with a 3-1 win over Bahrain with Lee Kang-in making the difference with two fine goals. Then Korea needed a last-minute own goal to manage a 2-2 draw with Jordan.

Every team is allowed one bad result, one blip in a tournament and that was Jurgen Klinsmann’s. Yet on Thursday, at one point, quite late in the game, the team was losing 2-1 and sitting in third place. It was only another piece of magic from Lee and then a penalty from Son Heung-min that put the Reds 3-2 ahead but then, after 15 minutes of added time, Malaysia grabbed a goal to make it 3-3. The final whistle sounded and there was one team happy and another less so.The facts are that Korea conceded six goals in three games against opposition, all ranked considerably lower by FIFA, is a major cause for concern. Coach Klinsmann blamed the referee for two of Malaysia’s goals. They sounded exactly like what they were: excuses.If it wasn’t for Lee, it is conceivable that Korea could have not even managed the five points collected and could even have been eliminated. Klinsmann has won the World Cup with West Germany back in 1990 and knows that the most important part of the group stage is getting out of it. Should the team, who last lifted the trophy in 1960, end up going on to end that 64 year drought, then nobody will care what happened in the first round. At the moment however, this is looking unlikely and Klinsmann also knows that many things need to improve. Not only is the defense looking weak but Son is looking isolated in attack and also not very happy.

So far the concerns about Klinsmann, appointed last February, seem to be valid. Some have criticized his seemingly relaxed manner and smiles when Korea was behind but that is not a big issue – different coaches act in different ways. What is a problem is that it is hard to find an overall strategy or style of play. There is, instead, a reliance on the big players delivering in the big moments. This is likely to get the team so far and then not much further.Saudi Arabia will be tough with their tens of thousands of fans behind them in Qatar. Roberto Mancini has shown in the past that he is tactically aware in leading Italy to the European Championship in 2021. With just one goal, a penalty, conceded in three games and two fine wing-backs in Saud Abdulhamid and Mohammed Al-Breik along with Asian Player of the Year Salem Al-Dawsari pulling the attacking strings, it is going to be a real test.It may be the one that Korea needs but whatever happens, there needs to be an 스포츠토토존 improvement. So far, it has not been good enough.

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